The Top-10 Tech Tips Every Enthusiast Should Know

Working on high-performance cars or even just your daily driver can be very rewarding. Psychologists will tell you that solving an automotive problem offers instant rewards when you are successful – and instant negative feelings when the task is left unresolved. So, think of these next 10 tech tips as our way of helping you make the best out of that next wrench-spinning enterprise. Most of these tips were learned the hard way, through trial and error – either ours personally or situations where we benefited from another hot rodder who gleaned these techniques the hard way.

So, take a spin through our collection of tips and techniques and see if a couple of them might just help you out the next time you have to tackle that repair or performance upgrade. Sometimes the seemingly least-significant tips might just save you some time and aggravation. We’re all into reducing stress and making this high-performance infatuation a bit more fun.

Yank That Pilot Bushing

You’ve probably seen the grease trick for removing a pilot bushing where you pack the area behind the bushing with grease and then hammer in a dummy pilot shaft to use hydraulic pressure to push the bushing out. We’ve also tried the trick of pushing bread – yes, the kind you eat – behind the bushing and hammer it in a similar manner to the grease trick. Our new favorite technique is to thread a ¾-inch tap into the bushing. When the tap reaches the blind end of the hole, it will force the bushing out. This technique is much less messy than the grease trick. The best part is you have bread left over to make a sandwich.

tech tip

This technique only works with soft pilot bushings, but it does the trick. Merely thread the tap into the bushing and when the tap hits the end of the hole it will force the bushing straight out and you don’t have to mess around with cleaning all that grease.

Output Cable and Proper Connector

High-output alternators are especially sensitive to the output-cable sizing. This is the cable that runs from the alternator to the battery. If this charging cable is undersized, it creates resistance which reduces the output – which essentially negates the money you spent for a high-output alternator in the first place.

A quick test of any charging system is to measure the voltage at the alternator output stud with the engine idling and the headlights and blower fan on. Next, compare that voltage reading to the voltage at the battery. If the voltage reading at the battery is more than 0.2- to 0.3-volt lower, the charge wire is undersized or there is excessive resistance in that output wire circuit.

Also, the ring connector that fits over the output stud on the alternator must fit as tightly as possible over the stud. If the ring connector is a loose fit over the stud, this can create resistance which will overheat the connector and cause it to melt. All of this just creates even more resistance that reduces alternator output. This is especially true with 175-amp and greater output alternators. In addition, this is a trick that can also be applied to any electrical connector with a ring terminal. It’s the little things that make all the difference.

tech tips

This is a 175-amp output alternator that requires a tight fit output-terminal connector to minimize resistance. For alternators with less than 200-amp output, a 4-gauge charge wire is recommended. If the wire is copper clad aluminum (CCA), it is recommended to increase to a 2-gauge wire.

Making Flares

Flaring tubing is generally not difficult, but some people do run into trouble with leaks. There are several subtle steps you can take to ensure those flares are properly executed and seal well. Start with a straight perpendicular cut then carefully radius the inside diameter of the tubing to ensure no sharp edges or imperfections exist. We bought a simple hand reamer from Grainger for under $15 that works well (PN 3CYP2).

Using this simple deburring tool from Grainger (left) will improve the quality of any flare. We also polish the ends of the tubing to improve the quality of even standard 45-degree double flares on mild-steel tubing. (Right) This is a Rigid 37-degree flaring tool that we’ve used for several years to create AN flares to be used with tubing nuts and sleeves on hard lines. This will create a single 37-degree AN flare on stainless tubing if the tubing is properly prepared.

Next, it’s worth the effort to polish the end of the tubing with a convolute wheel on a grinder to ensure a smooth surface. If using stainless steel tubing, make sure the tubing has been annealed. This is a softening process that makes this material easier to work. This annealed tubing can be obtained from Classic Tube. For making 37-degree AN flares, we like to use this tool from Rigid, but we have also used the really nice hydraulic flaring tool from Classic Tube and others. If you are going to make AN flares with this tool, you will have to purchase the flaring dies separately, which adds significantly to the price. But, like all quality tools, this thing is really nice.

Quick Leak Fix

We were working on a buddy’s twin four-barrel-equipped big-block the other day and were frustrated with several inverted flare fittings on his custom hard-line-plumbed fuel lines. No matter what we tried, the inverted flare lines continued to leak. Inverted flares seal on the 45-degree seat in the fitting but these brass fittings had long ago been mangled and were beyond saving. We couldn’t locate new fittings as the auto parts and hardware stores didn’t have what we needed. One quick fix you can try is to use paint polishing compound or gritty valve lapping compound on the flare and rub that into the fitting to work the surface. This may work on fittings with burrs or sharp edges.

Sometimes the softer inverted flare sealing surface can be repaired by coating the sealing surface of the female fitting with valve grinding compound and then rotating the flare against the seat by spinning it with your fingers with light pressure. If that doesn’t work, you can resort to the Teflon tape trick. This involves wrapping the tape so that it does not unravel when the fitting is tightened. This is not a permanent fix but should stop the leak until you can repair the damaged components.

In our situation, we didn’t have any polishing compound and the car had to run as quickly as possible, so we resorted to a quickie hack. We wrapped the threads of the inverted flare nuts with plumber’s tape and that stopped the leak. This is not a permanent solution and will fail once you disassemble the fitting. But in an emergency, this will get you to your destination without catching fire.

Rad Cap Tactics

We’ve noticed a number of leaking radiator caps lately on otherwise very nice machines. The car owners often complain that after installing a new aluminum radiator that it leaks around the cap area and that a new radiator cap did not repair the leak. The issue seems to be the distance between the rolled over portion of the radiator neck and the rubber seal inside the lid of the cap. A simple fix is to remove the rubber seal from an old radiator cap (if it’s in good shape) and add that second gasket to the inside of the current cap. This often takes up the added distance and seals the cap preventing further leaks. If this sounds simple – that’s only because it is!

tech tips

On troublesome aftermarket aluminum radiators, slip a second rubber gasket under the radiator cap to make up the difference in height and this may eliminate the leak around the cap.

Bellhousing Tips

Now that making horsepower has become so easy, this demands larger clutch assemblies. In turn, this demands a larger, 11-inch bellhousing for small and big-block Chevy engines. American Powertrain offers a reproduction 11-inch big-block Chevy bellhousing that can be used on any small- or big-block Chevy to accommodate a larger 11-inch clutch and pressure plate assembly. Be forewarned, these bellhousings (both the original factory and the reproduction versions) require the use of a special, iron-nose starter from a ’66 big-block Chevelle.

tech tip

The AC Delco starter (front) uses a smaller, cast-iron nose compared with the aluminum-nose version on the right. The nose portion that sits inside the bellhousing is roughly 3/8-inch smaller in diameter than the aluminum version and will fit inside the repro or OE 11-inch aluminum bellhousings.

We found this one at RockAuto (AC Delco PN 336836). Including the core charge, this is affordable at under $50. This is a heavy-duty starter motor with special emphasis on the word heavy. If you’re looking for a smaller, lighter version that will still clear the bellhousing, Tuff Stuff Performance has what you’re looking for in a later permanent magnet style gear reduction starter.

Shame on You

If you’re that guy who uses those square-end plastic zip ties through the radiator to attach an electric fan – you should be ashamed. Your radiator repair guy just might throw rocks at you for doing this — especially if the radiator is a cross-flow design. When those zip ties slip down – and they eventually will – that plastic line will saw right through those extremely thin radiator tubes. We don’t have to tell you what happens next.

tech tips

We often see electric fans supplied with these flat-faced zip ties to install the fan. Don’t do this. Throw those things away. Do yourself a favor and buy or build a bracket/shroud to mount the electric fan.

Vertical flow radiators will be spared this calamity, but when the ties slip they’ll just savage the cooling fins. This is the 21st century – get rid of those plastic zip ties and build a proper mount for your electric cooling fans. The same goes for mounting transmission coolers. There is no excuse…

Mag Daddy

Every once in a while we run across an idea that is a forehead slapper – the idea you wish you would have invented. The product is called a Mag Daddy. The one we like is called the cable tie mount which is a magnetic base with a loop for a simple plastic zip tie. These Mag Daddies also come in several other configurations. The only warning is that if exposed to the elements, the magnet may rust. The version used in this photo is PN 62422. This is a small, very powerful magnet that will adhere to any ferrous metal while the small rectangular loop allows a cable tie to slip through it to affix, for example, a length of wiring. These Mag Daddy’s are affordable – we found ours at Summit Racing in mini, small, and large sizes usually packaged in lots of five. Check ‘em out.

These Mag Daddy magnets are extremely handy for mounting something with a zip tie very quickly.

Paint My Master

If your road machine is fitted with a cast-iron master cylinder, it’s probably either rusty from no paint or has suffered paint damage from contact with brake fluid — which happens to be a fantastic paint remover. Our friend, Eric Schmiege, suggested an idea that really works. He suffered this exact similar problem and rectified it by lightly removing the surface rust and then painting the master cylinder with POR-15 black paint. The POR-15 is not affected by brake fluid, and even when applied with a brush, the paint flows out into a nice even finish. Make sure to wear rubber gloves and avoid spilling POR-15 on anything you don’t want coated. If it gets on your skin it will take a week for it to wear off!

tech tip

After light scuffing with 100-grit sandpaper, we brushed on the POR-15 with a cheap foam brush. The bush marks disappeared and now our master not only looks much nicer, but it is now impervious to brake fluid. Now we have to work on the remainder of the brake pieces – the new master makes them look kinda nasty.

Race ATF

While it may seem contradictory or perhaps even blasphemous, all GM drag racing automatics should run a Type-F fluid, which was originally a Ford fluid for pre-1981 vehicles. Type-F fluid was designed with reduced friction modifiers which helps the clutches grab more consistently. This fluid should still be available in some auto parts stores. Mobil sells this fluid, while Lucas offers a semi-synthetic that is really good. Another example is ATI’s new Type-F. This is an excellent full synthetic that has been considerably upgraded from the original formulation. The ATI Type-F comes in two different viscosities – 20w for most applications and the more viscous 30w for 1,500-plus horsepower engines that put more heat into the transmission fluid.

tech tips

It’s a time-honored racer’s trick to run Type-F in a GM transmission since it uses lower concentrations of friction modifiers. Among the best fluid out there is ATI’s full synthetic.

Quick Camber Check

Ever wanted to perform a quick check of the tire camber on your street car or road race car? If you don’t own a caster/camber gauge, there’s a quick way to create one for free using your smartphone. If you go to the App store, there are several free apps that will use the cell phone’s internal measurement device to display in degrees. We used the angle finder portion of the TREMEC driveshaft angle finder program that was already on our phone. We laid a length of angle iron to straddle the flat portion of the wheel and positioned the phone on this length of iron to read the vertical camber angle.

The negative camber scale is on the far right. Our camera was not exactly centered over the gauge, so you’ll have to trust us that it reads just a tick over a 1/2-degree negative. Without touching the car, we placed our digital smartphone angle finder on a length of angle iron that straddles the flat portion of the wheel. The angle finder displays a negative 0.3-degree.

On our drag race Chevelle, the camber ended up slightly negative on our bubble gauge at what appeared to be slightly more than a half-degree – call it 0.60 degrees negative. Negative camber is when the top of the tire is angled in toward the center of the car. The issue with bubble gauges is that they often require some interpretation as to the exact measurement. Our smartphone angle finder displayed the camber as 0.3-degree negative (the arrow pointing downward).

This is a differential of roughly 0.30-degree, which is more than we anticipated – but in the grand scheme of things, we can assume the camber to be somewhere in between. Keep in mind that all we were looking for is a quick evaluation. The best part of this quick camber check is that it cost nothing.

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About the author

Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith, a 35-year veteran of automotive journalism, comes to Power Automedia after serving as the senior technical editor at Car Craft magazine. An Iowa native, Smith served a variety of roles at Car Craft before moving to the senior editor role at Hot Rod and Chevy High Performance, and ultimately returning to Car Craft. An accomplished engine builder and technical expert, he will focus on the tech-heavy content that is the foundation of EngineLabs.
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